Born in the culturally rich district of Bankura (West Bengal, India) in 1887, Jamini Roy had the privilege of being exposed to the Bengali Folk Art Tradition from a very young age. The unmistakable influence of the Folk Tradition is to be found in his work throughout his career. In fact one can safely say that it was a hallmark of his work.
His awe-inspiring body of work has made him one of the most influential Modern Indian Painters.
The Birth of an Artist
At the tender age of 16, Jamini Roy with his father's blessings undertook a journey to the metropolis of Calcutta from an obscure village in Bankura. His mission in life was to study what he loved most in this world, Art.
He got himself enrolled in the Government School of Art, Calcutta, and there he found a mentor in the famous Bengali artist, Abanindranath Tagore, who himself can be called one of the most important contributors to the genre of Modern Indian Art.
The not so Salad days
Jamini Roy did not have a very auspicious start to his brilliant career. His Academic career ensured that his early works bore the residue of the Bengal School of Mannerism. Though his landscape painting and portrait painting had a distinct postimpressionist stamp, his early works lacked the character that his later work exuded.
His early life was scarred with extreme poverty and hardship, which obviously affected his work.
There is no soul as frustrated as that of an unrecognized artist's; such was the case with Jamini Roy too. He was disheartened with the lukewarm response to his work and therefore took on odd jobs.
As Jamini Roy took on a journey of self-discovery his works began to take a distinct form and character. He decided that he would have to go back to his roots to understand his craft better. These roots came in the form of Kalighat Paintings (the popular bazaar paintings sold outside the Kalighat temple in Calcutta ). By the 1930s there was a dramatic switch in his work. His work echoed of the colorful village life of Bengal and one found the influence of Vishnupur terracotta too in his work. Simple bold lines (which were later to become his trademark) characterized his works and the refreshing use of colors left one transfixed. He abandoned canvas and used innovative surfaces to give his paintings the ethnic feel. He made surfaces out of cloth, wood, even mats coated with lime. He was very particular about using vegetable colors for his paintings.
Indeed his paintings were a refreshing departure from the stylistic works of those times and were like a nostalgic recounting of the folk tradition that was fast fading away from the Bengali psyche.
Listed below are some of his best-loved works:-
Santal Boy with Drum (1935)
St. Ann and the Blessed Virgin (1945)
The remote Santals fascinated Jamini Roy, and he found in them essential qualities of human beings that were fast being lost in the modern world. He internalized the abstract nature of tribal Paintings and gave a specific meaning to the tribal philosophy. This particular painting is an embodiment of that very philosophy.
He painted three versions of this painting and in this painting we see an interesting representation of Christian iconography in the Hindu idiom.
This intriguing painting of a sea monster is a perfect example of Jamini Roy's fertile imagination.
Seated woman in Sari (1947)
One of Jamini Roy's most recognizable works, this particular painting shows the unmistakable Kalighat influence.
Krishna and Radha series
These are the best specimens of his draughtsmanship. Jamini Roy's approachable paintings assured that he found a vast array of admirers. He had both Bengali Middle class and European clientele. His work was exhibited in London, New York and many Indian cities. He was awarded the highest State Award of India, the Padma Bhushan, in 1955. He died in 1972 in Calcutta.
He is still venerated as one of the most important Modern Painters of India today.